Stars!-R-Us Article

Race Design, Step by Step
by: Mahrin Skel

Well, for a long time I've meant to go through and put down everything I've learned about race design. I'm hardly considered "the" expert on it, but I can hold my own most of the time, and I might be able to explain some things in a different way. I figured, to start with, I'd go through the Race Designer, page by page.

First, I want to make clear that every race should be designed around a particular strategic "theme". Whether designing a Quick-Start WM to attack in the early game, or a extreme narrow hab TT CA to dominate the late game, decide what your race is going to try and do, then design it with everything bent to that end. Hedging your bets usually leads to races that don't do anything very well.

I won't spend much time on the first page, PRT's have been the subject of much discussion. Mostly, I'll just note that CA's have pretty much proven out as the strongest PRT for generating resources, but other PRT's can use their advantages to good effect.

On the second page, LRT's, many things are a matter of opinion. Mostly, I'll discuss why you would or would not take a particular one, and some of what you can do with it. In general, LRT's should be taken for a specific purpose, either to confer a particular ability or to generate points to be used elsewhere.

Improved Fuel Efficiency (IFE)

This is one of the more commonly taken LRT's. The reason why is simple: the Fuel Mizer. Although IFE confers other benefits, the FM is one of the best deals in Stars!, a cheap, low-tech engine that allows travel at up to warp 9 virtually from the beginning of the game. Whether your need is to explore, or colonize very early, or to throw together a very early warfleet, the FM can make the difference in getting there on time.

This is an LRT that almost everyone takes if they can afford the points, simply for the early-game advantages it offers.

Total Terraforming (TT)

TT is definitely a specialist LRT, between the cost and the fact that you must research Bio heavily for it to be useful, you practically have to design your race around using this. It can be very effective, TT combined with cheap Bio can make even a 1 in 93 Habitability CA a viable contender, since CA's don't have to spend the 7650 resources that are needed for 90 points worth of terraforming.

Almost no-one takes this, and every successful race I've seen with it was CA. For experts only.

Advanced Remote Mining (ARM)

ARM is useful in games where you have the time to manage the attendant fleets of mining ships, in other words in PBEM games. Standard mining robots take too long to "earn out", to return minerals equal to their cost of construction, ARM allows cheaper and more efficient versions that do much better. No-one has the time for the MM in a blitz, so ARM is a definite "no" for blitz races.

Really, this LRT is aimed at the late game, when planetary mines are pretty much worked out. The exception is AR races, for whom it is a no-brainer, nearly mandatory. In versions before "f", AR's can use this to generate "space fountains", pulling literally ridiculous amounts of minerals out of Homeworlds. For non-AR, think carefully before you take it.

Improved Starbases (ISB)

ISB gives you the ability to build the Stardock and Ultra Station, and reduces the cost of all your starbases, Still, the usual reason for taking it is the Stardock, so that a colonization campaign is easier to manage. For AR, it is almost mandatory, the Stardock gives a badly needed step between the Orbital Fort and the Starbase. Other races may take it to have a cheap way to get colonizers and freighters built somewhere besides the HW.

If your race design is based on aggressive colonization, this can be very useful, otherwise, save the points.

Generalized Research (GR)

This one looks good on the surface, since it gives a 25% bonus to resources spent on research, but this comes at a heavy cost, no more than 50% of your resources can go to a particular field. Since the early game frequently requires getting particular technologies as quickly as possible, this can hurt, a lot.

In general, don't take this one, period.

Ultimate Recycling (UR)

This is one of those that simply doesn't do much for you. True, scrapped fleet's minerals can be recovered and turned into new fleets, but most fleets are not scrapped, they're destroyed. With the high cost in advantage points, this one is rarely worth it.

As of version h, there is an interesting effect of this LRT, ships built by one player with Cheap Engines and scrapped by another with UR (and no CE) can yield more minerals than went into making them. Exploiting this is an MM nightmare, and not very ethical.

Mineral Alchemy (MA)

IMHO, the worst deal in LRT's. This one is virtually unusable until the extremely late game, when virtually all planets have been depleted of minerals, and technologies have reached maximum. Then it could be decisive, but this would be unlikely, given the high cost.

Don't take this one. Games that it becomes the deciding factor are very rare.

No Ram Scoop Engines (NRSE)

This is one of the most common "Point Mines". Adapting your play style to do without ram engines is fairly easy, especially since IFE gives you the warp 4 ram FM, anyway. This is one of the most common ways to pay for IFE.

If you don't take this and do take IFE, you get a warp 10 scoop late in the game, but this is rarely sufficient to justify it. This should be one of the first places you look for points.

Cheap Engines (CE)

I seem to be the only person willing to take this one. The 10% chance of failure when attempting to move faster than warp 6 is a pain, and can cause some major tactical nightmares, but with effort you can adjust to it.  However, it doesn't give a lot of points, and should be avoided if possible.  A notable exception is WM quickstarts, who may take this to allow cheaper early warships to be built (and therefore more of them).

If you do take it, then *always* merge your fleets before sending them out to attack. Having your warfleet take an extra turn to reach the enemy is bad, having your bombers and transports show up when your cruisers don't is deadly.

Only Basic Remote Mining (OBRM)

In blitz, this one is a no-brainer for all but AR. You simply don't have time to manage and protect the mining ships and the ferrying freighters. Since it gives the offsetting advantage of 10% more per planet, there is no reason *not* to take it in blitz designs. In PBEM designs, it isn't quite as clear, many races may want to do remote mining in the mid and late game.

Taking this one makes remote mining generally uneconomic, so if you don't have a particular reason to do so (MM reduction, boosted population) that is compelling for your situation, think carefully before taking it.

No Advanced Scanners (NAS)

I hate this one the way most people hate CE. In the midgame, when most of the decisive fighting occurs, not being able to see where your enemy is assembling his fleets is lethal. In addition, an enemy who figures out that you have NAS can planet-hop his fleets, catching you by surprise again and again. I won't take this one usually, many take it routinely.

Notable exceptions are JOAT and SS, who get penetrating scanners even when they take this. For JOAT, NAS is a no-brainer, and it is easily justified for SS.

Bleeding Edge Technology (BET)

Probably the second-worst deal in LRT's. It confers minimal points, and guarantees that tech 26 technologies like the Streaming Pulverizer and Nubian hull will always cost double (basicly making them unusable). In exchange, you get slightly higher and faster miniaturization, but it just isn't worth it.

The only reason I can think of to take this is if your race was predicated on a "Horde" strategy, so that your X-Ray Scouts would be cheaper. Other than that, forget it.

Regenerating Shields (RS)

Not so hot, either. Unless your opponent never realizes you have it, and insists on using capital missles on all his ships, it just doesn't confer much help, and it doesn't give enough points to be worth the damage the half-armor does with a smart opponent.

Again, I can't see taking this. Assuming your opponent will be stupid is rarely good strategy.

The third page sets Habitability and Population Growth Rate (PGR). These feed back on each other, heavily, higher PGR means more expensive Hab, and vice-versa. At this point, non-HE races with less than 15% growth rate are simply non-viable, narrow hab ranges can be more easily accomodated than low PGR. Virtually every expert grade race I've seen has PGR of 18% or higher.

Something to note is that the relationship between PGR settings is not linear, as in 20% being twice as good as 10%, even though point cost is strictly 1 for 1. Since population growth is exponential (earlier growth gives later growth a higher baseline to start from), the real relationship is the ratio of the square of the PGR. So 10% (10^2 = 100) is only one fourth as good as 20% (20^2 = 400). The doubled cost of going from 19% to 20% often makes it sensible to drop it a point, but in general you should make it high.

Again, there is an exception, the double or triple immune HE. PGR as low as 3% (doubled to 6% for HE) is entirely feasible, indeed the tri-immune HE was the original "monster".

The fourth page is your economy. This page is complex in it's interactions, but there are some simple rules that can keep you out of trouble. For starters, if you're going to build factories, take the "G box", for factories to require less germanium. Then, don't let the number of factories exceed the number of mines by much, if at all (my mines usually exceed my factories in number, but that's me). Cheaper factories can combine with more efficient ones to keep your economy from being resource limited, higher numbers improve the "back end" of the race.

Mine efficiency versus numbers is a more difficult tradeoff, but in general you want to have enough mining output to sustain your factory-building. This means that efficiency times number should equal or exceed the number of factories, assuming you have checked the G-box. Mine cost should virtually always be taken down to 3.

There is a special case of factoryless races. By avoiding the investment in factories, a race can get off to an extremely fast start, but this means your "back end" is castrated. Such a race should "go for the throat", trying to demolish or cripple enemies in the early game, 20's and 30's.  Definitely for the agressive only.

One option is to reduce population efficiency to it's worst possible value, 1/2500, to pay for a more robust mine/factory economy. Although feasible, such races rarely do well in advanced level games or better, things are decided well before the Hyper-Producer can get up to speed. Otherwise, leave that setting completely alone, improving it costs more than it helps, and halfway settings generally lead to the same problem as anti-thematic decisions, you don't do anything well.

The most common way to go is the "Monster" economy. The is simply a balanced economy combined with a high PGR (18%+). The typical Monster economy is as follows:

  • 1 resource per 1000 colonists
  • 10 factories produce 12 resources
  • Factories require 9 resources to build
  • 10,000 colonists may operate 16 factories
  • G-box checked
  • 10 mines produce 10 kT of each mineral per year (at 100 concentration)
  • Mines cost 3 to build
  • 10,000 colonists may operate 16 mines
    These settings, or a slight modifcation thereof, combined with a high PGR (18%+) are the recipe for making a monster of any non-AR race. To get this, take points from where ever you have to, Technology, Habitability, or penalty LRT's.

    The last page is Research. Here, most designs mine points to pay for advantages taken on the other pages. There are exceptions, such as SS "Tech Thieves", and factoryless races frequently will leave them all at normal or even several cheap to neutralize some of their economic disadvantages.

    There are other reasons to take particular fields at normal or cheap, though. Cheap Weapons research is virtually mandatory for all races, without it you wind up outclassed on the battlefield. Cheap energy is almost mandatory for AR, as it contributes to their resource production. Normal or cheap energy is also used by PP races (Energy is the field for mass drivers) and by Grav-immune CA's (The current Monster of Monsters is a grav-immune CA), for temperature terraforming.

    Finally, there is the "Starts at 3" box. Concensus seems to be that if you have 3 or more expensive fields, you should take this one.

    Back to the Article Main Page.